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New study shows Texas' teaching environment needs tutoring

The Lone Star State ranks 19th in the U.S. for its teaching environment. Educational First Steps/Facebook

If Texas were a student, it would earn a mediocre grade when it comes to the state's atmosphere for schoolteachers. In a new study from personal finance website WalletHub, Texas ranks 19th for its teaching environment compared with the 49 other states and the District of Columbia.

While Texas earns good marks for teacher salaries, the rest of the state's grades for teachers are below average, according to WalletHub. In all, WalletHub studied 22 metrics to come up with its report card.

Texas ranks second for the average starting salary for teachers and 13th for the average salary for teachers. However, both data points adjusted for cost of living in Texas. The state also ranked 13th for the 10-year change in teachers' salaries, WalletHub says. Texas doesn't fare nearly as well in WalletHub's other measurements, though:

  • No. 29 for pupil-teacher ratio.
  • No. 30 for teacher safety.
  • No. 32 for fewest teachers per student projected for 2026.
  • No. 36 for school quality.
  • No. 36 for per-student spending in public schools. According to the National Education Association (NEA), per-student funding in Texas is $2,300 less than the national average.
  • No. 37 for teachers' potential for income growth.

A recent survey by the Texas State Teachers Association backs up the notion that the state's teachers aren't in the same class as their counterparts in places like New York, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Illinois, which were graded by WalletHub as the best states for teachers.

For instance, the Texas survey indicates that about four of every 10 teachers expect to take jobs outside the classroom to make ends meet during the academic year. In addition, the typical teacher in the survey reported spending an average of $738 a year on school supplies out of his or her own pocket.

According to the survey, moonlighting teachers in Texas average 14.1 hours a week at their extra jobs. That's on top of the 17 hours a week they spend outside the classroom on school-related work.

The Austin-based Texas State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the NEA, says the average salary of teachers in the survey was $53,221, which is $7,300 below the national average. According to the NEA, Texas ranks 29th for teacher pay.

Noel Candelaria, president of the Texas association, pins the blame for the plight of Texas teachers on Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and their legislative allies. He says they've failed to properly finance public education.

"Our teachers … remain dedicated to their students' success, even if it means spending evenings and weekends at extra jobs away from their families," Candelaria says in a release. "It's time for our elected officials at the state Capitol to demonstrate the same kind of dedication to our children by providing the necessary resources."

In August, Abbott said he wants to boost pay for the state's best teachers, putting them on a path toward earning more than $100,000 a year — without a hike in property taxes.

"Teaching is a calling; it would be hard to do otherwise," Abbott said. "But I want to ensure that teaching in Texas also becomes a profession, where we are able to attract the very best and keep the very best."

"We can and we must do more to improve education in Texas," the governor said. "As we approach this next legislative session [in 2019], one of my top goals is to improve education by investing more in our teachers and students."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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